Dallas Cowboys: 5 Issues the 'Boys Must Solve
The Dallas Cowboys have shown promise and problems in their first three contests of their 2012 campaign.
Dallas has established such a bipolar identity in the last few years that it’s hard to discern whether the team will be a true contender or go 6-10 like the debacle in the 2010 season.
This year has been no different. We’ve seen some good and we’ve seen some bad, but there are five things the Cowboys have to improve on to save their 2012 season.
Lack of Turnovers on Defense
The Dallas defense has played extremely well. There is no doubt about it.
The unit has done several things well this season and displayed the level of play necessary to remain a top-10 unit.
The front seven still boasts the league’s best pass-rusher in DeMarcus Ware, and the secondary has been rebuilt through both free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr and sixth-overall pick Morris Claiborne.
The D has shown its ability to stuff the run (with the exception of the second half in Seattle), and they’ve proven that they can force opposing offenses off the field on third down. They’ve also established themselves as a tough team to score points on, even on a short field.
The one thing the defense really doesn’t do (and hasn’t done for the past few seasons) is force turnovers.
The team can’t expect Romo and the offense to move the ball 80 yards on every possession.
Since we have not encountered a Dallas defense that forces turnovers for some years, it is hard to imagine the damage the offense could do, especially a team equipped with as much talent at the skill positions as Dallas has.
Ball Security Problems
Not only does Dallas have to create turnovers, but the team also has to take care of the football.
Although the Cowboys came out victorious against the Buccaneers, quarterback Tony Romo turned the football over three times. This is not a formula that will allow Dallas to fight for a playoff spot in late December and early January.
As good as Tony Romo is (and believe it, Romo haters, he is good), he’s thrown an interception in each of the team’s first three games.
He is often improvising and making great plays on the move—plays that would have never happened if not for his ability to escape opponents’ pass-rushers.
Then there are times when he is almost reckless with the football. All three of his picks this season were passes that he simply should have never thrown.
If Romo had decent pass protection, it would be much easier for him to avoid making the impulsive throws that often get him in trouble.
The quarterback has made a grip of great plays this season, and the ball security issues are not his to bear alone.
Running back Felix Jones’ fumble at Seattle last week opened that flood gates on an embarrassing, apathetic loss to Seattle.
If Dallas has any plans of earning a spot in the postseason, they have to win the turnover margin. Let’s not forget that turnovers were the main factor in fourth-quarter collapses against the Jets, Lions and Giants, games that shattered last season’s high hopes.
Just as the defense needs to get the offense more short fields, the offense cannot constantly put Rob Ryan’s group in bad situations, regardless of whether they have shown that they are fit for the task.
Those Yellow Flags
It’s really getting ridiculous. Real refs. Replacement refs. It doesn't matter. When a team has been called for the most penalties in the league, it truly speaks to something bigger than X’s and O’s.
Discipline and effort are things that professionals should be able to find in themselves.
Dallas’ first two games were on the road in the hostile environments of MetLife Stadium and CenturyLink Field. A few pre-snap penalties would have been understandable, maybe even expected, but given the rate at which Dallas has been penalized in the first three games, it’s a surprise the team is 2-1.
The Cowboys have continually killed drives with penalties, false starts in particular.
Cowboys offensive tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have committed six penalties, including a combined nine false starts.
All-pro tight end Jason Witten has been caught by replacement officials four times as well.
Sunday against Tampa Bay was absolutely inexcusable. The Cowboys committed another 13 penalties against the Buccaneers.
The pre-snap penalties are especially disheartening. The Pop Warner football team I coach kicked off two hours after Dallas. We were penalized once for a false start.
Teams can’t hurt themselves and expect to qualify for the playoffs, let alone make a trip down the difficult road to the Super Bowl.
The Ground Game
The Dallas offense struggled to run the football for the second consecutive week.
After gaining just 44 yards against Seattle, running back DeMarco Murray registered only 38 yards on 18 carries against Tampa Bay, though the second-year pro did score the team’s lone touchdown.
Murray started the season on a high note, gaining 131 yards against the Giants, but the back has found it tough to find holes behind his struggling offensive line.
Dallas has continually failed to win at the line of scrimmage this season. Murray is often trying to dodge defenders before he even gets moving. No team can run the football effectively if they can’t beat the defense at the point of attack.
When Dallas is forced to abandon the run, they are a much different, turnover prone team. This does not bode well for the team’s playoff hopes. If the Cowboys can run the football, expect to see Romo’s turnovers decrease, therefore translating into more scoring opportunities for the offense.
Left Guard, Center, Right Guard and Right Tackle
All in all, the lack of a consistent run game, the frequent penalties and a portion of the turnover problem start with the big men up front.
With the exception of drafting Tyron Smith in 2011, upgrading the group has not been a priority to the front office for years.
Although the team has problems across the entire line, the interior of the offensive front has been extremely detrimental to the Dallas offense.
They haven’t been able to find a reliable center to replace Andre Gurode, a player who came with his own inconsistencies. With Phil Costa still injured, the Cowboys have gone with Ryan Cook, a player the team traded for right before the start of the regular season.
The guard spots are now manned by former Cincinnati Bengal Nate Livings and former Carolina Panther Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Larry Allen, Nate Newton and Mark Stepnoski are no longer available, and if the Cowboys wish to hoist a Lombardi trophy like the members of early 90s Dallas teams, the offensive line must find a way to become a cohesive, productive unit.
Every offense goes only as far as their offensive line takes them.